Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix (part 53) [Wednesday Wanderings]

Author's Ramblings: Yay! Another installment down and just um, five more to go? I'm already working on six, honest! It's just that I have so much to write and so little time and of course, trying to keep all my little notes straight in my head, not to mention, I'm excited thinking of a new serial for Friday! Ack! Hopefully, I can still keep that deadline going. (side note, still can't get the pictures working, may link to them separately if I get a chance to do that this week) Anyway, cheers--enjoy the read!  NOTE: Deene's father is Finny, an earth-type Mountain guardian, his mother is a nature glyph and bears the appearance of a twelve year old girl.

RECAP: Eira and the DP have a night-long discussion, story-telling session, with a fable-like version of how the DP is where he is today and how Eira has played an instrumental part in his recent life. There is a touch of worry as to where Rory is and how they will find him. 


THIS IS THE FIFTH POST IN A SERIES OF EIGHT TOWARDS THE FINAL CONCLUSION OF THIS SERIAL. (Find older posts under the tag "HFTDP") 

HUNT FOR THE DARK PHOENIX : TRAVELING BEYOND SANITY


********

He tucked the cloak beneath her chin and watched her sleeping face, a restless, tortured face that he couldn’t help at all.

I tried.
 

The thought was saddening.
 

I did try. There were so many questions. I didn’t have all the answers, Father. Forgive me, I was a poor witness to someone so desperately searching for you. I was selfishly absorbed in my own needs and wants, giving nothing to the plans you’d prepared for me. I’m sorry. …

*******

He watched her sleep the entire night.

Keeping watch and continually strengthening the protective barrier she’d cast, the boy phoenix alternated between thinking and reasoning to sift through the puzzle in his head. There were a few things to be squared away and rather than dealing with the immediate problem at hand, he preferred to be pretend that he couldn’t see it.

Which was why he missed the change in her face when the morning light came. The rustling of fabric caught his ear and he turned, partially to see whether she was awake at last.

“Good morning.” Her brilliant smile made him blink.

“Morning, Master.” Her head cocked to the side, the smile dimmed a few watts by sleep. “It is a good morning, isn’t it?”

He stared at her for a long moment, then circled around to stand in front of her. She sat up, rubbing her head
and yawning. He darted out one hand to feel her forehead. “Don’t have a fever…” He muttered, turning away.

“Fever?” Eira laughed. “Not a fever, just a very good dream.”

“A dream?” He threw a spark on the burnt coals, satisfied when it burst into flame. “Must have been a very good dream.”

“It was.” Her voice softened, the sleep melting away from her figure as she stretched upwards to her feet. “It was beautiful.”

“That’s wonderful. What would you like for breakfast?”

“I have a choice?” She smiled again. “How about you pick? You always pick interesting things and I can eat almost anything, so it doesn’t really matter whether I’ve had it before or not.”

“Did the dream involve cute, fluffy things or are you just feeling a little under the weather?”

“Is my smile that annoying?”

The faintest hint of a blush touched the boy’s cheeks. “I wouldn’t exactly call it annoying, but there-”

“It doesn’t hurt anymore.” Eira said, quietly. She knelt, rolling up the bedroll and shaking out her cloak, fastening it around her neck. “Thank you, for last night. Thank you very much.”

“Last night…?”

“You were right, you know.” She stuffed the bedroll inside her knapsack, pleased when it shrunk to fit. “I finally understand the whole story! The fairy-tale was good, even though it was more of a fable than a fairy-tale-”

“I think I’m missing something here.”

“With that brilliant mind of yours?” Her smile was painfully beautiful. “It isn’t that hard to figure out. Want to guess or shall I tell you in plain basic?”

*********

“Are we making actual progress? You don’t look so good.”

“I don’t exactly feel that wonderful, apprentice.”

“Maybe we should rest…I mean, a few minutes wouldn’t hurt, right?”

“Can’t afford to stop.”

“But-!”

“No buts. There is a quicker method, I’m sure, I just haven’t thought of it yet.”

“I wish I could do something. I can port, but only to a place that I’ve seen. I don’t know any other traveling summons-”

“It’s dangerous to try other traveling summons when you haven’t tested them with inanimate objects.”

“Er, right.”

“You can only ‘port close to a place you’ve seen, or directly to a place you’ve seen?”

“Um,” Eira thought for a moment, slowing her step. “Directly, I guess. I mean, I see the picture and I pretty much make a tunnel, one circle here and one wherever it is and then connect the two.”

“Ah. Brilliance.”

“What?”

“If someone gives you a picture, can you port there?”

“I don’t know. Never tried before.” Eira bit her lip. “But I can try!” She added, hurriedly. “Really, I wouldn’t know unless I tried and it couldn’t hurt to try. Where’s the picture?” She leaned forward, eager to assist.

“In my head.”

“What?”

“It’s that kind of picture.”

“Um,”

“Just wait for it, I haven’t sent it yet.” The phoenix slowed to a stop and took the moment to lean against the rock wall, for a moment. His eyes closed and his breathing slowed. “What do you see?”

“Nothing.”

“Try again.”

“You don’t sound very good, Master, are you—ow! Okay. Now I see it.” Eira winced, reaching for the rock wall to brace herself. “Not quite so fast if you could…ughhhh…” She slowly dropped to her knees, absorbing the flow as quickly as it came. “It hurts…and wait, what happened?” The colorful stream of memory snapshots was abruptly severed. “Master Phoenix?” Her head popped up, turning to look at the figure in question. “Master Phoenix!”

Scrambling to her feet, she hurried to the fallen figure. Turning him over, cradling his upper body in her arms, she felt for a pulse and then attempted to wake him. “Master Phoenix? This isn’t funny! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do if you just black out on me! You’re not a normal person, you know!”

The body didn’t respond.

Master Phoenix! Can you hear me? Please! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with…

There was no answer.

Eira blew out a frustrated breath, mentally counting to ten. It didn’t help, so she repeated the exercise, counting to a dozen. “Great. That didn’t help much either.” She shifted the body gingerly. “Then again, I don’t suppose you’re faring any better.” She sighed. “If you were awake, you could probably regulate your weight so that I could actually.” She tried to stand him up and nearly dropped him.

Master Phoenix? You really are a horrible person! This is why you made me wear that stupid weight harness, isn’t it? You ARE regulating your weight…you’re out cold and you’re still playing your game behind closed doors.

“Can’t be helped.” Eira muttered, hefting him to the side. “But I get your point now. With all those pictures, all I have to do is move you a short distance and I’m sure my energies can handle that.”

Mumbling to herself, Eira sorted through the necessary symbols and cast the circle, using a stored base from her happy moments the night before. It took a smattering of minutes to have it set in place and the necessary adjustments made.

There was just enough time to grab hold of the boy phoenix as the circle activated and the duo disappeared in a flash of red and white energy.

*********

Eira transported hopped for the remainder of the day. Worry set in around lunchtime when she realized that she couldn’t rouse him for the midday meal. None of her efforts proved fruitful, even when she cast a general healing circle, in hopes of awakening him.

“Master Phoenix?” She unclasped her cloak, spreading it around him. “I hope you’re having a good dream. Like mine last night. It was really…special.” She bustled around him, setting up a fire and working to recall the method he’d summoned dinner with. That had seemed to be a fairly simple summon and it was the only one she could remember.

“In fact, it actually made a lot more sense than everything we’ve talked about so far…all the God-stuff, I mean. A lot of those things I said? I’m sorry. I know it doesn’t count unless you’re awake, but I also know that if you’re awake, you’ll tell me you don’t want to hear another apology, so I’m kinda cheating right now, but it’s for a good cause, ‘k?”

The meal was quick and efficient. Eira found the summons to be fairly straightforward and then the rest of her break-time was spent sifting through the images in her head. It was confusing to put them in the right order, because the last set of pictures had shuffled themselves on account of the sender losing consciousness during the exchange.

“I really hope I’m not stretching them too far.” Eira muttered, tracing a large circle on the ground. “And for the record, the bigger the circle, the less headache I have. The distance is the only thing that’s really an…hmmm, I guess we’ll just have to wing it, eh?”

**************

“I thought we were closer, as in, actually making progress, but there’s so many pictures, there’s at least two dozen more portals!” Eira tugged at her short hair, unable to do much else to show her frustration.
She muttered and mumbled a few more things to herself about the size of the circle and the varying terrain.

“Why do I have the feeling o being eaten alive with every circle I cast?” She counted on her fingers, reasoning out the time in her head.

A faint smile lingered as she touched her sleeping master’s hand. He still didn’t respond, the lifeless look seeming more realistic than before. Eira frowned, she leaned closer, feeling for a pulse. It was there and so faint, she almost thought she’d missed it.

The truly troubling revelation came from the realization that the boy wasn’t breathing. “Oh snap.” Eira nearly choked. “This can’t be happening!”

**************

“Eira?”

The voice was groggy and somewhat annoyed, breaking through her worried consciousness as Eira feverishly traced another circle with her hand. She powered it with base energy flowing through her feet, summoning a nearly flawless transportation tube.

“Master Phoenix?”

The words were tangled up until the portal spit them out at the last image in Eira’s head. She was relieved to see the golden-gray eyes open and glaring at her from beneath the shaggy mop of hair. His younger form is kinda cute. Eira blushed. “Master Phoenix!” She tried again. “You’re awake!”

“And that, apprentice, is called stating the obvious.” He rubbed his eyes and then scrubbed his face with his shirt-sleeve. “I didn’t think you’d make it fast enough.”

“What?”

“You did well. Thank you.”

“Er, you’re welcome?” Eira turned in a complete circle, watching him move around her. “Where exactly is this last circle?”

“We’re pretty much here.” The little head tipped up. “I’m so glad. I was starting to worry.”

“Um, clueless apprentice here? Mind cluing her in?”

“Not particularly.” He yawned. “That was a good nap though and I’m sure it was an inconvenience, so an explanation is owed. This is my home.” He gestured towards the landscape to the left of them, miles of charred black rock, rivers of steaming water, with fiery red trickles of lava.

“You’re kidding.” Eira stared from the depressing picture to the content expression on his face. “Or not.” She allowed. “It’s kind of-”

“How is your breathing?”

“What?”

“That’s good.” He started for the edge of the pathway.

“Wait! What are you-!”

“It’s easier to breathe down here.” He lightly jumped from the pathway, falling downward until he reached the black rock below. “Coming?”

“No fear of heights, no weak joints, no boots to speak of…and…”

“Fear of dying?” He helped her up from the ground. “That was a spectacularly embarrassing feat.”

Eira blushed a shade of red, the same as the lava cracks around them. “Thanks a lot!”

“No fear of dying?” He repeated, starting forward at a quick trot. “Hurry and keep up, it isn’t safe to dabble here.”

“Dabble? I am hurrying! I’ve been hurrying all day and-look out!”

“Huh? Oh, hmmm.” The phoenix stopped, stooping down beside a glowing red puddle. He studied it with a look of longing before reluctantly starting off down the pathway again.

She followed his gaze and then edged around the puddle, scurrying after him. “What was that?”

He yawned in reply. “Nothing for you to worry about, just keep away from it.”

“Are you okay?”

“Funny you should ask.”

“I was only asking because I was worried, Master.” Her voice was tempered now, softer and she fell easily into step beside him. “My apologies if I was prying, that was not my intention.”

He scowled. “I’m fine for now, but there isn’t enough time. You did well traveling here so quickly.”

“That’s the second time you said that. What happened? You blacked out so suddenly, I didn’t know what to do, but I guess you already had that figured out, didn’t you?”

“I plan everything, it keeps reality running smoother.”

“But it doesn’t always help, does it? Doesn’t it make it worse at times?”

“Depends on your definition of worse.” He said, shortly. “If you want to know what happened, I received another layer of energy for my power upgrade, if you would, and it was too sudden and too much. I absorbed it, which is why you saw those creatures with me.” He sighed. “They weren’t eating me, they were transplanting. You interrupted the processes, so it had to finish while I wasn’t conscious.”

“So you’ve got more energy now?”

“No. I have more darkness now.”

“Er, right. I-”

“Think of it as a storage void. I can’t take on more energy right now, because it would be too dangerous. That’s the second reason I had to be unconscious, if I was anywhere near you and conscious while surviving such a complicated process, you would be the one to suffer.”

“Then I appreciate your looking after me.” Eira found the smile easier to call to her face. “I feel a little bad now.”

“What for? I don’t need any-”

“It’s not pity or anything.” She took a step away. “It’s just that, this is a lot of stuff to happen to one person. I’d probably die if I had to do all of that alone.”

He grunted. “Could you tell me why you’re so cheerful at this precise moment?”

“Is it bothering you?” The smile softened. “Sorry, I’m a little on the hyper side considering that-”

“Hyper?”

“Well, that’s the best I can explain with-Master Phoenix!”

******************

“Master Phoenix?”

“Better now.” He murmured, slowly stepping out from the large pond of bubbling red liquid. Black energy swirled around him, repairing his clothes and smoothing his appearance as he stared at the sky. “Time.” He muttered. “Too little time.”

“What’s going on? Can you tell me now?”

“Since you’re necessary, yes.” The boy phoenix sat on the edge of the pond-sized puddle and swung his feet in the fiery mass. At once, the liquid burned away the pant legs, up to his knees, the fabric steaming as he was lost in thought. “Schol is here.”

Eira gave a start. “What?”

“It’s fine. You’re fine.” The words came quickly. “Just listen. Schol is here. I don’t necessarily speak of your dear uncle, but of the entity Schol, that is wanted by the League for the heinous crimes committed in that name. They are here.”

“What are they doing here?”

“Schol is the natural enemy of any avian hero.” The phoenix sighed. “It just so happens that this time, he’s chosen the dark phoenix as one of his objectives.”

“Objectives?”

“A natural source of dark energy.” He sighed. “Do you not understand? Nothing here is good and so much of all that happens is wrong on-”

“Except for you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Except for you. You said everything around here is dark, but that doesn’t include you.”

“It does.”

“No, I can see light in you.”

“Where did that come from?”

“I don’t know. I just felt that I had to tell you that.” Eira shrugged. “You’re not half as bad as you think you are. At least, not to me. You’re dark, yeah, but that’s your power and you’re pretty scary when you’re all ticked off, but I still see light in you. Somewhere, inside, behind everything else, it’s glowing.”

“Glowing, huh?”

“Yeah. Even if you try to hide it, it still shows through. But it’s like a fruit tart, on the outside it’s plain, sometimes it’s burnt. But it’s still filled with fruit and sugar and good stuff, only the person who made the tart knows how good it is.”

The eyebrows went up. “I’m sure you’re trying to tell me something.” Sarcasm seeped through his words. “But somehow, I’m completely missing the point on what it has to do with food.”

“Sometimes other people don’t know how good the tart is, until it breaks. Then the filling comes through the cracks and-”

“And it’s broken and useless. You’re making me hungry.”

“You should be hungry, you didn’t eat anything today.”

“I’m not like you, I don’t have to eat something every waking minute!”

“Is this one of those moments where you’re not in the best of moods?”

“If it is, do you really think I could give you a straight answer to a question like that?”

“Yes. You wouldn’t lie.”

“Is that supposed to mean something?”

“Yeah.” She hid a smile. “I think you’re hungry. Guys are always grumpy when they’re hungry.”

“Is that a fact?” He scowled.

“No, but that always happened to Bryan, Unk, Aois and Ro-” Eira stopped. “Rory!”

“He’s fine.”

“What? How do you know? Do you know where he is?”

“Of course.”

“Master Phoenix!”

“There is no need to work yourself up into a-”

“Please tell me that you’re not somehow ignoring him because you think he’s not worth the trouble! He is to me! He means a great deal of-”

“And to think a moment ago, you were babbling about the light I had buried inside of me.”

“I didn’t say it was buried.” Eira frowned. “Do you want me to ‘port some food in?”

“It isn’t buried? No, don’t. You’re not used to this atmosphere, it will shift your perceptions and energies in a moment.”

“It isn’t buried, it’s blinding!” Eira crossed her arms over her chest. “And I would like to ask a question that requires a straight answer!”

“By all means, ask away!”

“When you’re stuck in that…kid-mode, do you always act like a brat?”

********************

“Now I’m too full.” Eira moaned. “Why did I eat so much?”

“Because you were busy lecturing me.” The phoenix smirked. “Next time, stop talking and just eat. You’ll find that it’s easier to pay attention to your stomach when you’re not otherwise occupied.”

She lifted her head to look at him and then wrinkled her nose. “You are trying to annoy me, Master.” She sighed. “And I am too tired to care.”

“Finally.” He popped to his feet. “Up you go. We need to get moving.”

“What?”

“Just follow me.”

************

“Now, how do you feel?”

“Sort of okay, I suppose.” Eira stretched. “Not quite as tired, if that is what you’re getting at.”

“It is. I’m glad.” He sighed. “There really isn’t enough time for this, but we’ll have to make do, understand?”

“No, but I’ll pretend I do, so can you please continue? I could die of suspense waiting for all of your-”

“I have two pressing matters to take care of, both of the utmost importance.”

“I’m listening.” Eira stopped, when she realized he was beginning to pace in an odd circle. “Master Phoenix?”

“We’ll have to split up.”

“…will we?” Eira twisted her hands together.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t say so if I wasn’t.” He snapped.

“My apologies, Master. I was only double-checking because you haven’t seemed-”

“I’m fine! When we reach the fork at that point over there, I’ll go down and you’ll go up.”

“What for? What am I-er-we doing?”

“If you would give me a chance to finish, I’d gladly get around to mentioning it.” Eira clapped her hands over her mouth. His scowl deepened. “You’ll be acting as proxy for me in something that absolutely must be done.”

“And what about you?” She spoke through her fingers with a wince.

He sighed, the scowl forgotten. “I will be retrieving that troublesome Lyrith of yours.”

“Rory? Where is he? Why can’t I come?”

“Because I need to be in two places at once and it’s safer to send you elsewhere than to-”

“But he’s my Lyrith!”

“Rest assured, apprentice, I am not trying to steal it away from you. I am-”

“I don’t think splitting up is the-”

“That is enough, apprentice! There isn’t going to be any sort of discussion on this!”

***************

“So that’s it? You’re just going?”

“There is no other alternative.”

“Is that because you don’t want to see another one or because you think that-”

“Do you know what Garrett was leeching and draining you for?”

“Huh? My energy I guess…the whole, battery thing. I was just another power source.”

“Oh, brilliant deduction, apprentice.” There was a derisive snort. “What do you suppose he was doing with the energy?”

“I-I don’t know.” I didn’t think about it.

The eyebrows went up.

“I don’t, honest!” She licked her lips. “I swear, it’s the truth, I didn’t lie to you…I can’t.”

“Do you know what a Death Warp is?”

“Yes!” The color dribbled out of her face.

“Do you know what a Bourakizian death warp is?”

The remaining color drained away from her face. “V-very bad?”

“Smart girl.”

“I powered it?”

“More times than you’d know…though, technically, your senseless uncle did you a favor without realizing it.”

“What?”

“By drawing out all your powers on a continual basis, he built up your secondary. That’s why your powers are so neatly divided in two and you can distinguish between them.” He laughed. “It’s a lucky accident, because of it, you have a third elemental now. That particular messenger of death is currently within this mountain. It took lot of scheming to get it here, because there’s two halves to disarming it.” He sighed. “That’s part of my work at the League, I must complete my work. I can’t leave it unfinished nor in inexperienced hands.”

“But that means that Unk’s here, isn’t it?”

“I’ve already planned for that.”

“No, you haven’t. You planned for you planning that. Did you even think of me?”

“Why else would we be splitting up?”

“That’s not planning! That’s scheming!”

“How so? I believe it is working just fine.”

“You can’t just order me out of the way because it’s my family that’s involved with-”

“I’m not ordering you out of the way, Eira.” He rubbed his forehead. “I’m keeping you from complicating things. You’d charge right in there in your attempt to rescue your Lyrith. You’d fight with everything you had to your name. There isn’t a problem with that, except for they are expecting you to come after it.”

“I thought you said the dark phoenix was Schol’s objective. If that the case, then it’s as much a trap for you as it is for me! You can’t just go into something like that by yourself!”

“I cannot believe you don’t trust my judgment.”

“This has nothing to do with trusting judgment!”

“Then have a little faith, apprentice.”

“I have! Mayhap more than you at this point!”

A flicker of annoyance passed over his face. “Never mind. I don’t have the time for this, here, if you absolutely must, then use this.” He handed her a blue pearl. “It’s water.”

She reluctantly took the sparkling bead.

“What do you say?”

“Thanks, I think.”

“You’re welcome, then. I think.”

Eira tucked the pearl inside her shirt. “So this is it? You just yell at me. Then apologize. Then give me a gift and go? Is this another goodbye? I could barely handle the first one, you know.” Her hands curled into fists, trying to stem the new twist of reality toying with her emotions.

The arrogance melted away from his face and the head bowed. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I? You should have said something earlier.”

“Excuse me?”

“I can’t help what I turn into when it’s this close to end.” He smiled, sadly. “I could apologize, but that would be pointless now, wouldn’t it?” He moved to the left of the wide, expanse of slick black rock. “Come.”

Eira wearily trailed behind him.

“I have one last circle to teach you.” He held out one hand, as black energy spiraled up and over him.

A soft gasp escaped as Eira watched him alter his form to a teenaged version. “Master Phoenix?”

“This is my summoning medallion.” He offered a hand. “I’ve adjusted my height to make it easier for you, but I want you to learn this last circle.”

“Y-you would give me the-”

“Firstly, it would be your right and yours only.” He took her hand, fingers intertwining, the other resting lightly on her waist. “You need to know this, just in case. Now relax and follow my lead.”

They danced.

*********

“It’s a beautiful circle, Master.” Eira marveled, admiring the glowing medallion left on the black rock. “Must you really chase it away?”

“You know how dangerous it is to keep it.” He countered. “But if you would prefer, then I will let you store it on the condition that you do everything within your power to see that no one other than yourself, is the one to cast it.”

“Truly?” Eira gave a little bounce. “Thank you! I will! I will take very good care of it and I won’t use it unless-”

“You may have to use it, if there is no other choice.” He turned away, head bowed. “Swear that  it will be cast by your hand.”

“I-I do. I swear, on my honor!” Eira hurried to stand beside him as the glowing medallion leapt to her fingertips and faded into her body.

He started forward and she touched his shoulder. He paused, just enough to turn to the side. “Yes?”

“I can’t stop you, can I?”

“…no.”

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?”

“I am always alright.” He forced a smile. “Take care of yourself.”

“You shouldn’t leave in this state.”

“ I don’t have a choice.”

“Yes, you do!” Eira hurried forward, planting herself in front of him. “Okay, so I’m new at all of this too, but I understand. I understand enough to know that you can’t go out there like this, if you heart and Him aren’t-”

“It’s my job, Eira.” There was a tiredness to his voice. “And I don’t have a choice. I have to go.”

“But you don’t have to go alone!” The last words were nearly shouted out.

“It’s because I have a choice, that I’m going alone.” He moved forward until he stood before her. “Remember everything I told you about the mountain and Eunice. You can be my backup plan. If I’m not finished when you are, then you can simply come and join in the fun. Would that make you happy?”

“Not really.”

“So you’d rather wait here at the fork, if you return first?”

“I’m not returning first!”

“Apprentice.”

She stubbornly looked away.

“Eira.”

Her arms crossed over her chest, the alternative to slugging him.

“Be careful.”

“You be careful! I’m the one that’ll be fine with-!”

He smothered her in a hug.

There was a muffled squeak.

When he pulled away, she was still speechless, staring at him as if she couldn’t quite understand what had happened.

“Be careful.” He repeated, holding her head with a hand on either side. “and don’t worry about me.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

There was a blur of black and a rush of wind.

When she’d finally come to her senses again, Eira realized she couldn’t even see his figure in the distance. There was no way she could stop him now. He was well out of range. It wasn’t until she started shuffling towards the upper path that the realization settled in.

He must have planned that as well.

Her head bowed and a single tear trickled down.

I'm worried about you, Master. I wish you could...I wish you would...trust me.

****************

The was weathered and creaking, the door partially open, inviting potential customers to inquire within. “Hello?” The curly blonde head of hair curved around the grungy door, surveying the inside of the garage-like excursion agency. “Is there anyone in here?”

“No.” Deene answered from behind, pushing past her to enter the darkened hovel. “Try back tomorrow.”

“Hi!” The perky blonde flashed a smile, stepping into the space after him. She smoothed a white lab coat with a stiff color and red buttons. Everything about her was cheery, with red lipstick, smiley face earrings and candy-pink fingernails and accessories. “I was hoping there was someone here! I’m so glad, I just had a question to ask about-”

Deene only took note of her long enough to walk over to the crooked stone counter and flip the plastic sign over to read ‘closed’. Wordlessly, he moved around the counter, continuing deeper into the cave-room.

“Hey, wait!” The woman started after him. “I just want to ask a question, because I’m out in the middle of-” A door slammed shut somewhere in the shadows and she sighed. “of nowhere. I’m really lost now…”

“Excuse me?” A timid voice came from the entrance.

The woman whirled around, a polite expression affixed on her face. “Er, hi. I think they’re closed right now.”

The speaker was a young girl, rather short in size and very skinny. A crown of gold and silver flowers twined about her hair, a healthy crop of toffee-colored curls that bounced as she glided forward. “Closed? Need you something?” She hurried to the counter, her arms filled with bright purple flowers. “I will find someone for you.” The flowers were deposited on the counter as the girl found a stool and clambered up to bring herself to eyelevel with the woman.

“I just want some directions, that’s all, I’m not interested in a trip for-”

“My son is good with directions.” The girl grinned. “I’ll get him for you, if you would not mind waiting, but a moment.”

“I-I can wait.” The woman managed.

“Good.” The girl clapped her hands, then selected a single purple flower. “Here, this one is for you. Thank you for choosing our agency.”

“Er, I’m not an actual customer, miss, but-”

“Ma’am.” The girl murmured. “Not miss, ma’am.” The little smile was offered again. “It won’t be but a moment, if tha’ has the time t’ spare.”

“You said, your son?”

“Mmmhmmm. If he’s home. I could ask Finny, but he’s very fickle. Not good with directions at all.” Gathering the flowers together, the girl tugged sharply on one perfect toffee curl. It snapped off in her hand, turning to a shimmery, broze ribbon that adorned the bouquet as she expertly tied them together. “Deene?” She called out, her voice sing-songy. “Be you home?”

There was no answer, but a loud rumble from deep within the mountain.

A nervous laugh came from the woman.

“Don’t mind that.” The girl giggled. “He’s just grumpy. Deene!”

Another rumble sounded.

“Very grumpy, it would seem.” The girl observed. “Just a moment.” Sliding off the stool, she padded over to the door and stuck her head through the opening. “Deene! This is your mother, if you don’t get your sorry hide down these tunnels and into-”

The scowling teen appeared within seconds, his head popping through the doorjamb, a few feet taller than the girl in front of him. “What, Ma? I just got back!”

“Didn’t you hear me calling?”

“The whole mountain heard you calling.” He snorted. “It’s not enough that Pops rags on me for everything under this realm, but now you have to join him too?”

“Deene! Be nice! There’s a lady here.”

“And you’re telling me why?” He pushed the door open, stepping protectively around her. His dark eyes narrowed to slits. “You’re still here?” He said, brusquely. “Didn’t I tell you we’re closed?”

“She just wants directions.” His mother stomped on his foot.

There was a choked sound from his mouth and then Deene edged away, the scowl deepening. “Where to?”

“Well, I’m not sure if you’ve have heard of it, but-”

“Ma, go inside.” Deene interrupted, yanking the door open and pushing the little figure through. “I’m hungry, go find me something to eat.”

“Hungry already?” There was a teasing lilt to her voice. “Would you like crunchy stuffs or sweet stuffs?”

“Salt, Ma, salt! I’m sick of crunchy and sweet!”

“Salt it is then.” She chirped. “Help the nice lady and don’t break anything.”

“There isn’t anything left in here for me to break!” Deene kicked the door shut on her laughter. He redirected his glare to the woman. “Last chance, where are you headed that takes requires Kukurin personal shield and blaster?”

The woman smirked. “You’re smarter than you look, rockhead.”

“I’d advise you to leave now.” Deene said, smoothly. “And have a nice trip.”

“I was only wanting directions to Mount Skiel, nothing too picky about-”

Deene lunged forward, grabbing her neck and smashing the body into the cave wall beside him. “You’ll do wise to stay away from there.” He hissed. “I don't like your look. I don't like where you've come from. And shields and blasters won’t do a thing against what’s there. Get out.”

“Aye, hands off the customer!” A new voice roared. Deene was grabbed and roughly thrown to the side.

He landed at the base of the opposite wall, slowly standing up, brushing off his rumpled close. “Hi Pops.”

“You good for nothing boy!” Finny rumbled. “The only customer here in-”

"She wants to go to Mount Skiel! I'm not going there!"

"You'll go wherever the lady wants to, boy!"

"Then you take her yourself!"

"Up that cursed mountain? I'm not that far gone, boy. You can take her, since you trek around with that empty-headed bird-friend of yours!"

“I’m not takin’ ‘er! You can do it if you like. I just got back and I’m hungry.”

“You’ll take ‘er if it’s somewhere she’s gotta go that I can’t.”

“I’m not takin’ anyone anywhere!” Deene growled, stalking towards the back of the shop. “She can walk. She’s got two good legs, same as you! I’m going to get dinner.”

“But it’s not him I want.” The woman chuckled. There was the sound of something hitting the ground and a tinge of acid in the air.

Deene paused, his hand on the door keypad. “I hate the old man.” He said, quietly. “But I don’t hate him that bad, lady. You’d better get out of here, while you still can.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Deene.” She smirked, the blaster cocked. “Because I really need to get to Mount Skiel, you see a friend of mine is waiting for me.”

“You don’t have any friends. Anyone who’s stupid enough to set you up-”

The woman waved the blaster. “Move the front and start walking, kid. Schol didn’t set me up, he just asked me to make a detour first. Try anything funny and-” The woman threw something over her shoulder. "Your lovely parents won't be around to see how you survive meeting the famous-"


"If you shut up, I won't speak either." Deene growled. "And your stupid threads don't-ugh!" The shield slammed into his back.


"Chessia Mureton doesn't take orders from anyone, boy. March!"

****************

I’m worried about you, Master Phoenix.

Eira closed her eyes, relying on the full strength of the vision circle. Running was fast, but thinking slowed her down as she raced along the blackened stone.

The safety circle wouldn’t endanger her and thinking was easier when her eyes were closed. The faster the wind blurred around her, the deeper Eira fell into herself. The swirling mass of chaotic thought had calmed at her request, allowing her to sift through the words the phoenix had left in his wake.

There hadn’t been any discussion at all.

He’d simply left with too many questions and answers all jumbled up. None of it made sense, but Eira wasn’t sure that she wanted it to make sense. She hadn’t thought through all the implications of what would happen when her family was arrested for their illegal involvement with an anti-League group.

There’ll probably be a big scandal. Dad would die of embarrassment. Eira scoffed. Figures. The whole family-company image is a huge thing for him. Mom never cared about it. Leesha cares though, I guess that’s where Lyssa gets it from. She’s such a material girl. Then again, I guess I was too when that was all that there was. It seems so harmless, when it’s really causing the most damage. Ack. Can’t think about that now, I have to focus. I have to finish this really quickly.
 
This stupid mountain…well, not stupid, but still….

****************

I’m beginning to see the point of this.
 

It’s pointless.

Eira slowed to a blur.

She’d been constantly pulling on her energies, traveling by sight and safety medallions throughout the day. She didn’t dare try it at night and since her body required some sort of fuel, she opted for short naps and snack breaks whenever she could.

Counting on her hands, Eira couldn’t decide on the day as she stood at the edge of the pathway peering down into the darkness. 
 
I can’t remember anymore.
 

“Mustn’t think of logical things. The mountains are tricky. Time passes differently there. This is why I’m sending you. I can’t risk the time changes myself, it could be too late and that would be trouble for everyone in this quadrant.”
 

Quadrant? Yeah right! As if it could be…well, could it? Good grief. I don’t know. Now that I actually think about it, I haven’t seen him do much of anything lately. He’s always been grumpy and very particular about keeping a routine.
 

Huh. Maybe a routine existence uses less energy? Arrghh! How would I know?

Eira yawned, shaking her head to clear it. “Seriously, you have got to be kidding me.” She looked from the rounded pillars scattered between the gap in the pathway, to the other side. “No way…no way…yes way.” She twirled her fingers in the air and cast the circle for wings.

***********

“You’re not Benjamin Oliver Urkreyus.” Sorora landed lightly on her feet, just before the corner of the path. She’d been perched on the flat wall of the black stone, waiting with an eager smile.

Eira jumped back with a yelp of fright. She found her good humors somewhat, when she recognized the familiar face. “Warn people before you do that!”

“Most people don’t need a warning, at least, not the folk that come here.” Sorora yawned, the action unladylike in her new figure.

“You look, different.” Eira allowed. “What are you doing here? Not that I mind, it’s not my place to mind or ask-”

“I should be doing the asking.” Sorora stepped forward, reaching out a hand towards the girl’s head. “I’d better look different. I’m assuming that wonderful master of yours is elsewhere? Is he alright?”

“I don’t know.” Eira leaned forward, towards the hand.

Sorora shied away at once. “Don’t…you’re a bit too dark for that now, love.” She sighed. “I was really hoping he hadn’t done it, but it seems like he did.”

“He didn’t do anything!” Eira defended. “I just had…a moment.”

“A moment? You call marks like that, a moment?” Sorora pointed to her wrist. “You’re a summoner in the dark sections now, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think I have to answer that.”

“Is Ben alright?”

“I don’t know.”

“How was he?”

“What do you mean?”

“What stage is he at?”

“I don’t know.” No, I don’t know if I should tell you. I don’t know you well enough.

“He didn’t say? That’s unusual.”

“You’ve seen him like—that—before?”

“Yes. The past six times, actually.”

“That’s a lot of times.”

“Eh, it varies. We take turns or specifically, he does. He likes to wait until the last minute to take care of anything!”

“When he shrinks, you grow, right?”

“Smart girl. You have a fairly sharp head on your shoulders…don’t cut your own neck with it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re smart, yet you’re the one here running his errands.” Sorora sighed. “If you’re here for what I think you are.”

“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” Eira shrugged. “I’m just following orders.” She hesitated. “Come with?”

“What for?”

“Company! I don't mind company. I've been walking by myself for so long, I seriously think I'm losing it. If you don't mind, I sure don't. It'd be nice. Master Phoenix told me all I had to do was talk to Eunice.”

Sorora shuddered, paling visibly. “I want nothing to do with that witch!”

“Witch?” Eira blinked. “I’m going to see a witch?”

“Er…don’t mind me. We just don’t get along, that’s all.” Sorora backed away. “Listen, tell Ben that everything was taken care of. I figured this was the best place to meet him, since it wouldn’t kill both of us directly or otherwise. Just pass the message on, alright?”

“S-sure. Wait! Where are you going?”

“Can’t stay here.” Sorora flashed a smile. “But if we meet again, I can’t wait to see how you’ll turn out.”

“What?”

“You’re one of the nicest ones I’ve ever seen come from his corner of reality.” There was a wiggle of her fingers in a wave. “Be careful in there, in case he didn’t tell you, if you need to run-”

“To run and don’t look back. Got it.” Eira tried to return the smile, but the expression was only half there. “Bye!” She waved as the woman exploded in a bucketful of sparkles. The flash died away and only a heap of white, pearly dust remained. Eira eyed it for moment and then sighed. “Better not touch it…but it is pretty.”

© Sara Harricharan

1 comments:

Kristina Rohder said...

Well, here I am again, making another attempt to finish reading this awesome story of yours!
Anyway! Oh my goodness! The suspense is almost tangible! Something dramatic is going to happen. *nods wisely* lol
As always, I loved this chapter. Eira and the DP are developing some wonderful chemistry, I think. :)